A bucket-wheel on a reclaimer machine loads coal onto a ship at Mackay harbour in Queensland, Australia. Eric Taylor / Bloomberg via Getty Images

By Michael Slezak, Australasia reporter
6 June 2012

A resources boom that has shielded Australia from the global economic meltdown is threatening the Great Barrier Reef and provoked an argument between the state and federal governments.

The kerfuffle was sparked last week when the Queensland state government approved the development of one of the country's largest coal mines, expected to export about 30 million tonnes per year, using ports along the Great Barrier Reef.

The approval came as UNESCO released a report warning of the dangers of increased shipping traffic in the reef, expressing "great concern" at the scale of coastal developments.

"This mine would add to the massive dredging, dumping, and shipping which is turning the Great Barrier Reef into a coal superhighway," said federal senator Larissa Waters, a member of the Australian Greens party. She added that it would contribute to the rapid loss of marine habitats.

The federal government has now stepped in, with the federal environment minister saying Queensland's environmental assessment process had been "shambolic" and threatening to take over the state's approval process.

The Queensland government said it was committed to protecting the Great Barrier Reef. "The reef is the world's largest living organism and an international tourism icon, supporting more than 50,000 jobs and injecting around $5 billion a year into our economy," said Andrew Powell, the Queensland minister for environment and heritage protection. […]

Australia's coal boom threatens Great Barrier Reef

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